Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Backward to the Future

February came in December this year here in the twigs of Sussex County and it seems to have taken me and many of my friends by surprise. Forget that the cold makes bones ache and tempers short. Ignore the snowthrower that should have been exhumed from its burial plot in the tool shed before the first flakes touched down. Let go all of the frozen hoses and unfilled potholes and the space under the barn door that went without that load of shoulder stone someone (could be me...I'm not saying) forgot to order back in September when the late summer lulled us into lethargy. All of that is water under the....

Well, it would be water under the bridge if it weren't frozen now.

But New Year's Eve is nearly upon us! One more day, and 2009 will disappear forever to be replaced by a whole new decade ripe for sullying with our craziness. It's time to look back and be grateful (okay...a little pissed, but mostly grateful) for what the past decade has brought.

2000: The Millenium Bug went the way of the Pet Rock, which is to say it hit its peak early, then died a natural death when it became obvious that there wasn't much excitement value in watching clocks tick.

2001: You're expecting some comment on 9/11, so here it is. Bad year all around, but many of us went on to live fruitful lives despite the cloud of depression hanging over the planet. I watched my daughter graduate from college without becoming a drug addict (that is, I did not become a drug addict to compensate for my irrational concerns about her college experience).

2002: The UN Security Council passed the resolution that was designed to either a) force Iraq to disarm, or b) allow us to invade. We picked b. New horses came and occasionally left the farm while my daughter experimented with a lesson program, training, and, most of all, returning to the fold where Mommy Dearest collided with her reality. It all worked.

2003: Katherine Hepburn died, the Iraqi Freedom war began, and in an unrelated incident, I detached a retina. Nine months of staring at people's shoes passed before the surgeon finally, with great enthusiasm, sucked the stuff out of my eye and gave me eyeball stitches that went a long way as a disciplinary tool in my high school English class. "Sit down and shut up or I'll show you my eyeball!" Waaaah! I used the time off to compile my first book. Mars Odyssey climbed out of the atmosphere and into Mars orbit. Remember SARS? Yep! This was the year.

2004: The war continued while we prepared for my daughter's wedding. As someone who's own personal entire wedding planning episode took under three months, the advance-planning stages of this epic event overwhelmed me to the point where I became a home-bound psychotic and bought the ugliest dress in the mail-order catalog to wear to the reception.

2005: The Wedding Happened. We all survived. Most of us, intact. The former-daughter-now-wife and her two riding horses left. I spent the next six months having thrice-weekly confabs with the vet over the lump that appeared on my daughter's aged gelding's face. I had Cornell's vet school on speed dial.

2006: Not much happened in the larger world as far as I can ascertain other than the launch of history's longest and most obnoxious Presidential campaign. Two horses died, which was far more meaningful, and I got sick. That pretty much killed the rest of 2006, though it did not prevent me from putting together another book.

2007: This year started on a Monday. Could there be a worse omen? The war dragged on. A partial solar eclipse almost eclipsed war news for ten seconds. Halley's Comet did not return, but is scheduled to do so in 2061 if you don't mind waiting. I got to ride a fabulous dressage horse that did not belong to me and whose owner showed the poor judgment of letting me set butt in saddle on her boy. It was close to my birthday, which made it a truly pithy moment full of Grrrl Power fist-pumping which caused my bursitis to flare up.

2008: New President, Barak Obama, became the no-holds-barred target for every whifty wingnut this side of Sarah Palin. Very exciting year as far as news, but the horses were totally disinterested. I may have to install cable TV in the barn to keep their enthusiasm for human idiocy at a fever pitch.

2009: Yep, he's still President. I discovered that I'm allergic to cold weather. I learned that in August when the temperature never reached the required scorch-on-contact 105 degrees that I'd hoped for. Granted, I save a lot on electricity since the horses were fine with fans, obviating the need for the planned A/C installation in the barn. However, lacking excuses, I was forced to ride daily, which trickled down to an exercise regimen that would allow me to continue to do so. In recovery I wrote my third book.

2010: Wait for it.... Meanwhile, party hearty but safely, and may the New Year bring something to the table that the last ten were lacking, whatever that might be for you and yours.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Horses For the Holidays

It's safe to read this today. No pleas here for you to send more money or bring home a horse or other rescued pet. Today I'm in awe of the generosity of people I don't know but would like to meet one day.

In my splotch on the planet, horses have it pretty good. There are wonderful homes where owners care deeply about their responsibility towards whatever pets they choose to keep. There are several excellent rescues and no-kill shelters. They can all use a little more financial support, but they are doing an amazing job.

But just now I followed a few threads on Facebook and was dumb-struck (yeah, I can be struck dumb) by the number of horses recently adopted out of the kill pen at Camelot Sales here in Cranbury, New Jersey. While I was feeling sorry for all those abandoned horses, other, better people were busy making room for them in their barns. I could not be more impressed by all of you who continually jump in to save an animal from an unhappy ending.

I do want to note that although Camelot and its kind may seem like cruelty personified, it is not the fault of the auction owner or personnel when a horse winds up in the pens. The care they receive once they are there is, but not the decision to put them in that setting. If there are angry barbs to be launched, their aim needs to be clear. Without the auctions, many of these horses would have simply starved to death, abandoned to their fates by owners who could not or would not see them through to a kinder conclusion. Close the pens, and where will those horses go to find new homes? How will anyone know they are in need?

One poster brought up the fact that euthanasia is still too expensive in many areas. This is an issue that will continue to bring the crazies out of the woodwork on both sides. Euthanasia is not that expensive. Many vets are donating their time at venues to help strapped owners put their horses down humanely. Death may not always be the best solution, but it is an option that needs to be faced without anger and conflict. Is a horse better off humanely killed than painfully starving? Hell yes! But we all need to agree not to target the owners who make that choice as evildoers bound for Perdition.

Another voice aimed barbs at the breed associations, AQHA specifically. Yes, they need to stop offering incentives for breeders. That would go a long way toward eliminating excess horses. The time for numbers competition among the breeds and self-serving approaches is long past. But local jurisdictions also need to get on board and stop requiring breeding and selling of babies for a farmland property tax assessment and abatement. A move toward keeping horses as a requirement would be excellent and might open up new options for owners. Here in New Jersey, it's only been a little over a year since equestrian activities were finally permitted a slot in the "Right to Farm" regulations. Prior to this change (and thanks to the NJ Horse Council for that lobbying coup), nothing equestrian counted as farming, so the difficulties faced by farm owners were legion and expensive to deal with, and breeding was the only sure bet.

Still another voiced the belief that backyard breeders will keep breeding no matter what they are told. That's another problem. Gelding could be made cheaper and breed registration more expensive. When the bloom is off the breeding rose, perhaps more breeders will see the wisdom to keeping only their top stock intact and gelding their babies pre-sale. They could increase their own share of the market with a simple snip-snip and give the industry a leg up on solving this problem.

The issues in our business are many and complex, but there is one simple solution. We need to work together. Horse people are notoriously independent. Like cattle and dairy farmers, they don't like to be told what to do, and government regulation is poison to their souls. Find a way to convince horsemen that the business needs some serious cut-backs and that fewer people need to try to make a living at being horsey, and a paradigm shift will follow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ode to Azithromycin

Sleighbells ring, are ya' listening?
On my lip, snot is glistening....

The First Cold of the Season has to be among the most depressing of all pre-holiday events as it bodes so poorly for raucous good times. In my case, it's just adding to an already severe case of Christmas Blahs, but for some it is truly a slimy fly in the ointment that is Holiday Planning.

Still, there are bigger fish to fry, so Kleenex wads aside, we need to focus.

Today I was sad to find not one but two emails in my in-box listing horses that are in need of immediate homes. The death of the founder of the New York Horse Rescue would be sufficient cause for glumness on its own, as a fine vet has met an untimely end and leaves a wife and two young children behind to grieve their loss. But there are horses involved as well that now need to be rehomed as quickly as possible.

Adding to the sadness was a listing with photos of a gaggle of animals currently housed
at Camelot auction house at 43 Brickyard Rd, Cranbury, New Jersey (call Frank, 609-448-5225). The prices range from ridiculously low ($100) to awesomely ridiculous (about $500) for well-broke, apparently healthy and possibly sane equines. Word has it that the entire group, all horses that either did not sell at the recent auction or were purchased for resale by Buyer #10 (listed as "feedlot" and rumored to be a well-intentioned kill buyer who prefers to resell the animals to new homes) will be headed to slaughter on Sunday. This coming Sunday. The Sunday before Christmas and right after Hannukah. If I was alert enough to know the date of Kwanzaa, I could triple heart-wound you.

So what's a pre-holiday horse person to do? Click the link above, that's number one. Do what you can to help even if it's just passing the word. If I am starting to sound as annoying as a toddler's tin drum, that's a good thing. Go do something for someone, and I'll fade Silently into the Night.

You might be interested to know that if you have an annual income of over $35,000, you are actually quite well-off. Doesn't that make you feel more generous? You are above-average in wealth and undoubtedly also brilliant and violently attractive to the opposite sex. Put all that awesomeness to good use and find a way to help.

Don't make me get my Grinch on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ho, Ho, WHOA!

Still 'tis the season, right? So what's with all the glum faces I see around me?

What I'm thinking is that we as a lump sum of humanity have become depressed, dejected, disappointed, and otherwise demented and there is no one to blame but ourselves. Sure, we're jobless. Sure, we have little hope of surviving to the New Year with any sort of flash and flare. But there are some diamonds amidst the coal in our stockings.

One lovely glimmer our credit card bills that are shrinking because we're afraid to spend, and that's a good thing. Though the cost of everything has risen exponentially, prices are starting to decline...a good and a bad thing, but we'll stick to the good part for now. After all, we horse people have never been known to be overtly reality-based. Why start during the holidays?

Horses are without a doubt the most expensive of house pets, yet the vast majority of us are managing even if it means skimping on bedding to make sure the hay keeps coming. Grain is a luxury in times like these, and that's okay. Water and good hay will take Fuzz Butt far without too much strain on his health (though his attitude may be taxed to the max). If they're happy and healthy, they're fine and better than many.

In my last post I suggested that some of us (you know who you are) who like to throw money at family and friends during the holidays in the hope that they might actually like us after New Year's might do better to toss a little in the direction of some of the needy horses and other house pets who are suffering more than we humans through this financial drought. I'm making that suggestion again (can't hear it often enough, can we?), but in deference to those who have whined that they really don't have cash to spare, I'm adding that volunteering time is also a really fine thing to do.

Of course I'm focusing mostly on the animals who we capture, keep, and often torment for our own bizarre and questionable purposes and who have no options since they can't unionize, write letters to the editor, or turn us in to the watchdog agencies on their own. They deserve some extra consideration all the time, not just at the holidays. But there are also humans out there in need, sometimes just craving a friendly shoulder or a leg up on a job application or a cup of coffee paid for by the stranger in line behind them at Dunkin'.

Time to drag out that copy of the Pay it Forward DVD you got for Christmas a few years back and watch it. Not all of it; you can skip the part at the end where the kid dies because that's just too depressing for a holiday pick-me-up. But let's have a go at some Random Acts of Kindness, shall we? The lady who gave me her shopping cart yesterday with the quarter still installed in the chain release said "Merry Christmas!" For a minute it really felt that way, and I smiled for the rest of the hour of dragging-and-dropping foodstuffs in my mindless weekly ritual. I smiled at the checker and bagged my own groceries. That made her smile and wave her arthritic hand at me. I'm sure the next person in her line was greeted with something more kindly than her usual scowl and rumble.

So small, that quarter, and yet so...well...ripply in effect.

Let it start with us horse folks. When you're at the farm market, pick up a bag of slightly bruised apples and drop them off at the local equine rescue. Go break the ice in your neighbor's water trough while she's at work or dump her dog's water dish and refill it. When you pass the pet shelter, stop in and ask if they can use a hand this weekend cleaning cages and grooming animals. If you have kids, get them on board as well.

We're a damned decent species when we've got sufficient motivation. Think of this as the beginning of a better year--not better in the sense of bringing you more of the same old same old, but better in ways you can't imagine yet--and use that thought to spark something. You'll be amazed at the outcome, I promise.

And order my books. There's no hope of delivery in time for Christmas, but IOU's in pretty holiday designs are always welcome.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sleighbells Ring

Nope, not looking like this out just yet. At least not here in the twigs of New Jersey, though I'll bet my friends in the Dakotas are seeing something pretty much like snow right now.

But even as the little bit of unexpected snow we got yesterday melts away, it's time to think about winter and horses and horses in need of help this winter.

Naturally, if you have horses and you are a decent caretaker, you're already planning whatever adjustments you need to make for the weather in your area. Here at the farm it was a quick plug-in of trough de-icers, the addition of the heated bucket for the two boys who live in the barnyard, and the disconnection of all the hoses from all the "freeze-proof" hydrants. Remember, they're only freeze-proof if they're not full of water, so take the hoses off and open any valves so the water can drain back down into the nice, freeze-proof ground.

Then, because this snow was a tad unexpected, the two horses still wearing shoes had to be consulted. The mare, Pokey, has no issues. She gets to stand in the pasture on the hay the herd has been rolling in and peeing on for the past month, so there's little danger of snow balling up before I can get those summer sneakers swapped out for the winter jobbies with the rim pads and the borium studs. But good ol' Leo, my faithful partner in crime, came in balled to the max last night, so today he was forced to put aside his fashion sense and live with the pretty red Simple Boots he shares with Dakota. There was much discussion as he stuck his booted foot out for me to look at, and the expression of horror on his face ("You're joking, right? In public I have to wear these?") was charming but ineffectual as I was off for the day to visit my 92-year-old father whose issues are far more pressing than Leo's dislike for the My Pretty Pony look.

Medium blankets all around last night as the freezing rain and snow combo sent the herd scrambling for cover, and they'll live with those until I have time to take them off. Or until after the next predicted rain storm on Wednesday. Whatever. They're fine.

But as I cruised Facebook this afternoon and saw the unending list of adoptable horses, it occurred to me that a lot of animals are not so fine. So I'm going to suggest that, if you can afford it, you add a name to your Holiday gift list. You must have someone on that list who really doesn't need or want whatever you were planning on spending on him. That five bucks you were going to toss to the paper delivery guy who has managed to dump your Sunday news in the mud three out of four times....why not consider sending it to one of the horse rescues or animal sanctuaries? There are plenty of them out there, and not a one would turn down even the smallest donation. Got an extra bag of feed? A few bales of hay? Some free time? Let this season's joy be reflected in the lives of some animals who might otherwise just languish in their suffering. You'll feel better for it, and they'll appreciate whatever comes their way.